The program — which is expected to create a 912-member corps of mostly officers and enlisted service members who will work on Afghanistan and Pakistan issues for up to five years — was announced with much fanfare last fall. So far, 172 have signed up, and Admiral Mullen has questioned whether all of them are right for such a critical job.The article gets into the fact that a 5-year commitment in something admittedly experimental is a really dangerous career path. Which it is, of course. If you jumped with both feet into studying Afghanistan in 2001, you would've been ignored 2 years later. If you jumped into Iraq in 2003, you'd be passe 4 years later. And now with the Yemen and the Somalia and the 2011 pull-out date, it's a dubious career move. And not all military folks have the opportunity to be as absurdly narrow-minded as us nerds, I understand that. But all the same, I think the only thing worse than having such small numbers is having the highest-ranking member of the armed forces say that you're not even worth the program's while.
“In many cases, the volunteers have been the right people for this very critical program,” Admiral Mullen said in the one-page memo, dated Dec. 14. “However, I am concerned that this is not the case across the board.”Eeesh. Score one for slow-moving bureaucracy.
But the thing I'm most interested in the training. The article says that "volunteers receive cultural training and 16 weeks of language instruction in Dari, Pashto or Urdu" and for anyone that has learned those languages, 16 weeks ain't nothing. 16 weeks of Urdu and you're still wondering whether that's a "n" or an "l" and saying "Aap kya hal hai?" with a goofy grin on your face. I'd imagine that it would take more to break up the Quetta Shura. And speaking of Quetta, wither Balochi? Poor folks can't even get a government program to understand their region to fund studying their language.
So USMil is trying to fill up these slots with experts, and yet folks have graduated (including folks like me with exactly 16 weeks of Urdu under my belt, nontheless) and can't find jobs. Once again, the knowledge and people trying to find it are out there. But trying to find soldiers who you can force into learning really complex customs and languages and sacrifice their careers while they're at it is going to be difficult. Trying to convince history and linguistics nerds to study what they want: considerably less so. Sometimes, more bureaucracy is not the answer.
And I don't think Think-Tanks are necessarily the answer, either. Academics and warfare are really a nasty, ugly, mix, I realize that. I just suppose that trying to create a new Central Asia is going to take a lot more than guns, and any military solution should probably realize this.